What is an EMT/Paramedic Degree?
Degree programs in the applied science of emergency medical services (EMS) must cover highly specialized training for professional emergency medical technicians (EMT) or paramedics. Although a college degree in emergency services is not a mandatory prerequisite for work in emergency medical service, it helps build a solid educational foundation for those seeking certification, which all 50 states do require.
To obtain national certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), prospective EMS employees must pass a national exam. Candidates may not even take this exam until after they have met several educational requirements. To meet these pre-certification requirements, students have a variety of educational options to choose from, including certificate programs from community colleges, hospitals, and municipal departments. Many schools now offer online degrees in emergency services management.
Since jobs and salaries in the EMS field vary greatly in scope, employers require different levels of certification depending on the position. Where some jobs may only require EMT-Basic certification, other jobs may require certification at the highest level, EMT-Paramedic. The prospective EMS student should carefully evaluate her career goals and become familiar with these levels of certification before committing to a particular training program.
Preparing for EMS Training
Prospective EMS students should evaluate whether they have what it takes to thrive in this job. Being an EMT/ paramedic involves gruesome accidents, dangerous situations, and extremely high levels of stress. Even the training for this high-stakes career is intense. A student who wants to pursue EMS training should be physically and emotionally fit, should have good communication skills and a desire to help people, and should be able to make good decisions under pressure. EMTs must also possess a vocabulary of basic medical terminology, certification in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and a clean driving record.
Many educational programs require a high school diploma (or GED) for admission. Some programs may also require students to be at least 18 or 21 years of age. Several even require a criminal background check and drug-screening test. Requirements differ by program and by the level of certification represented. For example, programs focusing on the high-level certification of EMT-Paramedic often require applicants to have already obtained EMT-Basic and CPR certification, as well as some field experience.
Aspiring EMS professionals should be aware of their state's certification requirements prior to taking the exams, as well as what personal questions may be asked of them when taking the tests. For example, some exams may ask about the history of their health, chemical addictions, and criminal behavior, as well as their EMS employment history, including any disciplinary actions, suspensions or lawsuits.
Career Education in Emergency Medical Services
Because students pursuing EMS education have very diverse educational backgrounds, professional experience, and career goals, there are many options available to suit their differing needs. Students with a high school diploma (or GED) may prefer to pursue an associate degree. Working professionals can seek continuing education or additional certifications. All professionals must continually renew their certifications to remain valid. Renewal involves continuing education requirements that differ by state.
The First Responder certification is usually required for police officers and firefighters, although some departments require the higher EMT-Basic certification. Certification programs involve training in basic life-support skills that a paramedic should know when he arrives at a traffic accident or fire.
EMT-Basic programs may cover topics such as:
- Basic medical terminology
- Patient assessment
- Immobilization of fractures
- Bleeding control
- Hazardous materials
- Blood-borne pathogens
These programs also focus on hands-on experience from performing physical exams, assessing trauma, administering oxygen, maintaining airways, performing semiautomatic defibrillation, and training to drive an emergency vehicle. As a general rule, this is broken down into 100 to 120 hours of classroom training, 20 to 50 hours of internship with a field rescue or ambulance service, and 10 hours in the emergency room of a hospital.
The fundamental requirement for practicing EMS technicians, the EMT-Basic is a 110-hour course with a nationally standardized curriculum. It covers all the techniques in the First Responder course, with the addition of such topics as patient assessment, handling airways, and treatment of infants and children. It also offers a course on EMT well-being, including personal safety and stress management.
EMT-Intermediate (EMT-2 or EMT-3)
EMT-Intermediate programs, which may not be offered in some states, require an EMT-Basic certification for admission and usually consist of an additional 35 to 55 hours of instruction and field training in patient assessment, intravenous fluids, EKG interpretation, anti-shock garments, basic medications, and esophageal airways. In states that offer EMT-Intermediate certification, this certification is suggested, but not always required, for admission into EMT-Paramedic programs.
EMT-Paramedic programs require an EMT-Basic certification for admission. They usually take the form of two-year associate degree programs that may involve 750 to 2,000 hours of extensive coursework, field training, and hospital rotations. Students learn advanced EMS procedures, such as 12-lead EKG interpretation, needle decompression for collapsed lungs, nasal intubation, cardiac pacing, intraosseous canulation, and administration of medications to treat cardiac arrest, diabetic reactions, allergic reactions, and respiratory complications. Admission to some EMT-Paramedic programs may require letters of recommendation and documentation of work performed during internships.
EMS Training Resources
EMS education can be of benefit not just to prospective EMTs and paramedics, but virtually anyone who has even a passing interest in being prepared in a disaster event or any other kind of emergency scenario where immediate medical assistance might be needed. Thankfully, instruction in basic EMS skills is readily available from a variety of sources. This list, provided by PublicHealthCorps, covers a few of the resources available to the public as of 2010:
- American Heart Association: The AMA maintains a database of EMS courses in both classroom and online formats.
- ACLS quizzes: A set of quizzes on several emergency medical subjects including bradycardia, pulseless electrical activity, unstable tachycardia and more.
- AMA Emergency Cardiovascular Care guidelines: The AMA's collection of guidelines on ECC best practices.
- Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality public health emergency preparedness: This is a large collection of guides for many different emergency medical standards and practices including adapting community call centers for crisis support, community guides for alternative care facilities in disaster events and mass medical care with scarce resources.
EMS Certificate Programs vs. Degree Programs
Certificate programs allow you to add a particular certification to your resume without spending years getting a degree. These programs may be offered through police, fire, or health departments, as well as through some hospitals and non-degree programs at colleges and universities.
Certificate programs are usually most attractive to:
- Students wanting to get their basic certification as quickly as possible to apply for an entry-level job
- Professionals in the EMS field wanting to obtain a higher level of certification for advancement or promotion
In recent years, the availability of online certificate programs has made this option even more attractive, since both students and professionals can often work an online program into their existing work schedule. For EMS professionals who already possess the required clinical experience, online continuing education programs can help expand their knowledge of medical theory, safety and administrative practice.
Medical degree programs in EMS and paramedic services usually center on the management side of the field (these degrees may not include a clinical aspect and thus are often available online). Unlike certificate programs, most degree programs -- whether general or specialized -- require a set of general education courses (i.e. math, English composition, social sciences) designed to boost students' communication and critical thinking skills.
When deciding between certificate programs and degree programs, you should evaluate your immediate and long-term goals. Research your program options, both locally and online. Among the factors you should consider are class size, schedule, completion time, clinical exposure, preceptors, tuition, housing, and graduation placement rates. If you have more questions about making your choice between various schools, feel free to contact admissions advisors and ask them questions about their school and its application requirements.
Once certified at any level, EMTs and paramedics must continually renew their certification by obtaining campus-based or online Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in EMS?
Career specializations in Emergency Medical Services
There are many employment opportunities within the EMS field, including fire departments, police departments, hospitals, and ambulance services (both public and private). Some EMTs find work in the corporate or industrial world (like on an offshore oil platform) and others supplement their full-time employment by offering their services as an independent contractor for things like sporting events or film shoots.
A few of the many EMS-related career opportunities include
- Ambulance EMT or Paramedic
- Search and Rescue (SAR) Medic
- Ski Patrol Medic
- Critical Care or Flight Paramedic
- EMS Instructor
Trends for Careers in Emergency Medical Service
As of 2010, the field of emergency medical service has entered a period of transition that has begun to place more and more responsibility on EMTs and paramedics. Many factors have contributed to these changes, including the growth of population centers, the rising medical needs of baby-boomers, and the public's changing view of disaster response.
These trends, in combination with a decreasing percentage of volunteer responders and increasing certification standards, are likely to result in a continuation of the need for candidates in the field of emergency medical service.
EMTs and paramedics are qualified to do many things besides fieldwork. Some move on to become dispatchers, instructors, physician assistants, or even sales personnel for companies that sell emergency medical equipment. If an EMT-Paramedic wishes to advance beyond fieldwork, opportunities exist as supervisors, operations managers, and administrative or executive directors of emergency services. Others may wish to return to school to become registered nurses, physicians, or other healthcare professionals.
The skills that typify an EMT or paramedic are valuable in many situations beyond emergency medicine and pre-hospital care. Many employers appreciate employees who can think on their feet and make levelheaded decisions under stressful and even life-or-death circumstances. Some other careers that require these types of skills are air traffic control, law enforcement, and all branches of the military.
The EMT Oath
"Be it pledged as an Emergency Medical Technician, I will honor the physical and judicial laws of God and man. I will follow that regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of patients and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, nor shall I suggest any such counsel. Into whatever homes I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of only the sick and injured, never revealing what I see or hear in the lives of men unless required by law.
I shall also share my medical knowledge with those who may benefit from what I have learned. I will serve unselfishly and continuously in order to help make a better world for all mankind.
While I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life, and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times. Should I trespass or violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot. So help me God."
- Written by: Charles B. Gillespie, M.D.
Adopted by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, 1978
What Can You Do With an EMT Certification?
Career opportunities for an EMT differ greatly depending upon level of certification. Anyone wishing to enter this field should know the responsibilities inherent to each certification standard.
The lowest level of certification is usually required of the people who tend to arrive first at the scene of an accident, such as firefighters and police officers. Their responsibilities are to provide basic emergency medical care until other EMS personnel have arrived at the scene.
A basic certification as an Emergency Medical Technician allows someone to be employed as an entry-level EMT. Responsibilities of an EMT-Basic include assessing an emergency scene, controlling bleeding, applying splints, assisting with childbirth, administering oxygen, and performing basic life support skills, including CPR.
EMT-Intermediate (EMT-2 and EMT-3)
In most states that offer intermediate training, it can be obtained in either EMT-Shock Trauma or EMT-Cardiac. These certifications increase an EMT's roles and responsibilities to include administering intravenous fluids (and some advanced medications), using manual defibrillators, and using advanced airway techniques and equipment during respiratory emergencies.
The highest level of certification rewards recipients with a tremendous amount of responsibility at the scene of a medical emergency. They are authorized to provide extensive pre-hospital care, which includes administering drugs orally and intravenously, interpreting electrocardiograms (EKGs), and performing endotracheal intubations.
Other helpful EMS links:
- NREMT - State Offices Page
- American Ambulance Association
- National Association of EMS Educators
- National Association of EMS Physicians
- National Association of State EMS Directors
- National Council of State EMS Training Coordinators
- National Highway Transportation Safety Administration - EMS Page
- National Volunteer Fire Council Homepage
- International Association of Fire Chiefs
- International Association of Firefighters
- International Rescue and Emergency Care Association